Appointment of the 10th Graduate of the First Class at West Point

Item Ref:  BSL - Millard Fillmore
President Millard Fillmore Appoints General Joseph G. Totten, Chief Engineer of the US, First Head of the Corps of Engineers, Chief Inspector of West Point, Founder of Smithsonian Institute & National Academy of Sciences and a noted Conchologist - as an Original Member of the Lighthouse Board.

Millard Fillmore


Joseph Totten

Joseph Gilbert Totten was fourteen when he entered West Point's first Class in 1802. Sixty-two years later his distinguished military career found him a Major General. He was the longest serving Chief Engineer of the United States Army and Chief Inspector of West Point. He was a founder of the Smithsonian, the National Academy of Sciences and the Lighthouse Board; his fundamental principles for the defense of the country's seacoast are still studied today. Several times decorated and promoted for meritorious conduct, Totten served 14 Presidents. Here is his Very Fine Appointment as a founding member of the Lighthouse Board.

Joseph Gilbert Totten (1788 -1864) Biographical Note

Born in New Haven, Connecticut 23 August, 1788; died in Washington, D.C., 22 April, 1864. Totten received his earliest education under the direction of his maternal uncle, Jared Mansfield, by whom he was brought up after the death of his mother. With his uncle's occupation of the First Chair of Mathematics at the United States Military Academy the boy received an appointment from Connecticut as cadet. In 1802 Totten was only fourteen when he entered the United State Military Academy in its opening year, He was commissioned a second lieutenant, Corps of Engineers, on July 1, 1805 being the tenth graduate (Cullum #10) of the Academy. Including his attendance at West Point, his military career spanned sixty-two years; for the last twenty-six of which he was Chief Engineer of the Army and Inspector General of West Point.

Totten was engaged in the construction of Castle William and Fort Clinton in New York harbor, 1808-1812, and promoted to first lieutenant in July 1810. With the outbreak of the War of 1812 he advanced to Captain in July 1812, served as Chief Engineer of the Army on the Niagara frontier, winning a Brevet promotion to Major in June 1813 and Lieutenant Colonel in September 1814 for his distinguished service at Queenstown and the Battle of Plattsburgh. Totten was a Captain of Engineers before most of the Civil War generals were born. He advanced to full Major in 1818 and to full Lieutenant Colonel in 1828. With his promotion to full Colonel in December 1838, Joseph Totten became Chief Engineer of the Army and Chief Inspector at West Point. He held both of these posts until his death in 1864, a period far longer than any predecessor or successor. In the Mexican War he operated as Winfield Scottís chief engineer during the siege of Vera Cruz and was brevetted Brigadier General, U.S. Army, for gallant and meritorious conduct on March 29, 1847.

From its establishment in 1851 until 1858, and again in 1860-1864, Totten was a member of the Lighthouse Board; he contributed signally to the solution of several difficult problems of lighthouse construction, notably for those at Seven-Foot Knoll near Baltimore and Minot's Ledge near Cohasset, Massachusetts. During the years before the Civil War, Totten was a prominent contributor to a number of areas of scientific advancement, including the lighting of the navigational hazards of the eastern seaboard, the investigation of the effect of the firing of newly perfected heavy ordnance, and the study of harbors and defenses in New York, Boston, and San Francisco. His reports laid out the fundamental principles on the defense of the countryís entire seaboard. In addition to his regular duties of maintaining harbor channels and defenses and lighthouses, he was responsible for providing engineering officers to the armies in the field and providing special supervision for such projects as the massive Civil War defensive ring around the nationís capital which was never really challenged by the Confederacy because of its strength. On March 3, 1863 the Corps of Topographical Engineers was merged into the Corps of Engineers and Totten was promoted to brigadier general and made the first overall Chief Engineer of the United States.

Totten was a founding regent of the Smithsonian Institution in 1846, a founding Incorporator of the National Academy of Science in 1863 and a member of many scientific associations, to some of which he made valuable contributions. He was interested in natural science and was an authority on the conchology of the northern coast conch of the United States, publishing occasional papers, in which he described hitherto unknown species. The Gemma Tottenii and the Succinea Tottenii were so named in his honor. He also published papers on mineralogy. The degree of A. M. was conferred on him by Brown University in 1829.

Following his sudden death from pneumonia while still on active duty in Washington on April 22, 1864, Totten was posthumously brevetted Major General, posted to the day before his death. General Totten was buried in the Congressional Cemetery and there are at least three Fort Tottenís named after him in Queens, New York City; Washington, D.C.; and North Dakota. Here is a major appointment signed by President Millard Fillmore, a fascinating, presidentially documented record of a Founding Father of the Corps of Engineers, the Smithsonian Institute, the National Academy of Sciences and a Steward of West Point.

Document Specifications:
Presidential Appointment, Signed by Fillmore as President and the Acting Secretary of the Treasury, 1 page folio on paper measuring 17" wide x 11" tall (440mm x 280mm). Embossed with the pressed seal of the Treasury Department of the United States and dated September 24, 1852, appointing Brevet Brigadier General Joseph G. Totten a Member of the Lighthouse Board. Very good, bold dark signature of Fillmore and an illegible signature for the Acting Secretary of the Treasury. A few very minor stains and a left margin tear not affecting printed document or signature.

 Offered by Berryhill & Sturgeon, Ltd. .................................  $ SOLD

End of Item - BSL - Millard Fillmore

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